SCOTLAND could be the first part of the UK to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government plans to bring forward legislation which would permit it.
The controversial issue has been backed by politicians from all the main parties north of the border, as well as equality campaigners, but has attracted fierce criticism from some religious organisations.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal, and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe this is the right thing to do.”
The decision comes after almost 80,000 people responded to a Scottish Government consultation on the issue.
The UK Government has also put forward proposals to bring in same-sex marriage, which it supports, but ministers are waiting until the end of a consultation before making a decision on the matter.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government understands and respects the fact that there are very deeply held views in Scotland both for and against same-sex marriage and in coming to our decision, we have had to carefully consider a number of different factors. We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.
“We are also mindful of the fact that the leaders of all of the other parties represented in parliament support same-sex marriage and that there is significant parliamentary support for legislation.
“However, we are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion. The concerns of those who do not favour same-sex marriage require to be properly addressed.
“It is therefore right that the next step in this process will be to consult stakeholders on any provisions that may be required, in either statute or guidance, to protect these important principles and address specific concerns that have been expressed.
“The Scottish Government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.”
A consultation will take place on the drafting of the legislation and guidance.
It will consider any extra measures that may be needed to guarantee freedom of speech and religion in specific circumstances, including in education, ministers said. A draft Bill will be published for consultation later in the year.